COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Texas A&M University has decided to suspend its traditional pre-game bonfire to give officials time to improve procedures following an accident last year that killed 12 students.
''We will not have a bonfire this year,'' Texas A&M President Ray Bowen said Friday at a news conference. When the tradition does resume, in 2002 at the earliest, it will be much more professionally run, he said.
The change resulted from the collapse during construction of the 2 million-pound log stack Nov. 18. In addition to the deaths, 27 people were injured.
''We can have a bonfire if it's completely restructured. We will have a bonfire if it's completely restructured,'' Bowen said.
But it is off for at least two years while the university and students hash out the necessary changes, Bowen said.
A task force of students, faculty and staff will be formed in September to develop a plan for a 2002 bonfire, Bowen said. Their plan will be due in Bowen's office in April 2001.
He promised far greater university supervision and a professionally engineered design. Bowen's decision means the students of who have kept the tradition alive for nearly a century will now have less control of it.
Michael Self, father of bonfire victim Jerry Don Self, criticized the decision to suspend the ceremony. He spoke after getting a letter from school officials but before Bowen's formal announcement.
''I'm not surprised because of all the rumors I've been hearing lately,'' he said. ''I'm speaking for my son, because he's not here to speak for himself. As a father, it is hard, but I know in my heart that Jerry would want bonfire to burn this fall.''
Many victims' relatives have called for the bonfire tradition to continue and a student group collected 7,204 signatures on paper, 1,229 on its Web site and 841 e-mails supporting the event.
''Each individual who sent us messages supports Aggie bonfire,'' said Keep the Fire Burning spokesman Ryan Thompson. ''There would be many, many disappointed people (if it stopped). I'm sure there would be a hole in people's hearts.''
Earlier this week, however, A&M's Faculty Senate approved a nonbinding resolution saying the bonfire should be replaced if changes can't be made to address the commission's safety concerns.
''If the many, many problems can be solved, then probably (the bonfire) will be preserved in one form or another. But it will be a very different event than before,'' said Jonathan Smith, a Faculty Senate member and an associate professor of geography.
Two other bonfire investigations are pending.
Bill Turner, Brazos County district attorney, said his office is determining whether to seek criminal charges. His investigation has ruled out sabotage but not negligence.
On Wednesday, the Texas Board of Professional Engineers voted to launch its own inquiry. Board officials said the organization had jurisdiction over the bonfire, calling it a complex structure requiring engineering controls.
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